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French lawmakers duel over human stem cell and embryo research

The French National Assembly last night voted 73 to 33 to maintain the status quo of tight restrictions on human embryonic stem-cell (ESC) and embryo research. The regulations on such research are part of an ongoing revision of the country’s bioethics laws. The bill will now go before the Senate in June, and a final decision is expected by the end of the year.

In an article earlier this year – “France mulls embryo research reform” – I explained the current ambiguities of France’s laws concerning ESC and embryo research:

Officially, research on human ESCs and embryos is banned in France. But under a 2004 amendment to the country’s bioethics law, scientists can obtain dispensation for research that could lead to “major therapeutic progress” for serious diseases that resist other approaches. Those whose research fits the bill — about 30 research groups and 40 projects so far — can carry out research on whole embryos, or on cell lines derived from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF). Creating embryos for research purposes is illegal in the country, a position that enjoys a broad consensus among scientists, politicians and the public alike. A broad consensus of researchers and clinicians is now urging the government to overturn the ban, and to explicitly authorize research on ESCs and whole embryos without the need for any special dispensation.

The French government wants to maintain the current system of a ban of both, with dispensations. On a first reading of the bill back in February, the National Assembly had also backed the government, but last month the Senate amended the text to authorize both ESC and embryo research, with individual projects having to be approved and monitored by the national Biomedicine Agency. The text will now go back to the Senate for a second reading.

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